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iOS-ingularity: How iPhones and Macs will meld in 2013

Apple had a unique 2012 adjusting to life after the passing of co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs. Though the company introduced a plethora of new devices, 2012 wasn’t all peachy releases for Apple. Some of the lower points include: the layoff of Scott Forstall after the Apple Maps debacle, the displeasure with the quick release of the iPad 4 after the iPad 3 was only a few months old, and the lack of updates in the iPhone 5.

Even with these downfalls, Apple was still wildly successful, becoming the most valued company in history. In addition to the iPad 3, iPad 4, and iPad Mini, the year 2012 saw a new iPhone 5, a new MacBook Pro with Retina, and updated iMacs and MacBooks Airs

Apple also released Mac OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion), a hugely popular software update that gave us a glimpse into future updates, where Mac OS X and iOS operating systems will slowly be more and more alike. Mountain Lion added key iOS features – like Notification Center, Game Center, Notes, Reminders, and iMessage capabilities – to the Mac operating system, further unifying the two, which is something we can expect more of in the upcoming year.

But, even after such an eventful 2012, Apple could be gearing up for an even bigger year. So, what can we expect from the tech behemoth in 2013? We spoke to a number of experts about the potential updates Apple might introduce to its desktop, laptop, and Mac OS X software. Here’s what we think.  

Software updates

In 2013, Apple will introduce Mac OS X 10.9, the still-untitled software update for Macs. There have been numerous media reports regarding 10.9, but one thing is for certain: 10.9 will introduce Siri and Maps to Mac computers. Since Apple has slowly but steadily been introducing key iOS features in the Mac operating system, there’s almost no reason to doubt the reports. But will Siri and Maps be improved for OS X 10.9? Experts say yes.  

Siri

Introduced in the iPhone 4S, Siri has been one of the biggest updates to the iPhone. So what can we expect from Siri in 2013? Adam Fingerman, co-founder of app development company ArcTouch, thinks that Siri will open up for iOS and Mac developers beyond just voice dictation.

Craig Negoescu, CEO of NAKA Media and ex-media director of Frog Design, has a lot experience with Apple products. An inventor, technology strategist, and user experience designer, Negoescu says integrating Siri in Mac OS X 10.9 is very likely. “Despite a few stumbles, Apple is committed to Siri as a foundational element of user input, along with multitouch,” Negoescu said. “As Siri is more thoroughly integrated into apps and services, it becomes more valuable … It’s value increases exponentially the more it is tied into services, apps, and data.” Negoescu also thinks Siri will get better and more personal. “Watch ‘Iron Man,’” Negoescu said. “Jarvis is the goal.”

It’s important to note that a similar feature called Dictation, which allows your computer to transcribe text as you speak, is already available on Mountain Lion. While Siri is slightly different, the main programming is similar, which leads us to think that Siri might be available to every computer eligible for Mac OS X 10.9. That being said, Apple could use Siri as an incentive for users to buy new Macs, so the feature might not be available to older models.  

Apple Maps

As for Apple Maps on Mac OS X 10.9, people are less enthusiastic, but Apple users are hoping that Apple Maps to get a little better. According to Negoescu, it’s a “safe bet” that Apple’s “troubled (but improving) maps application” will be included in Mac OS X 10.9. After the Google Maps app on iOS made its celebrated debut earlier this month, it makes sense for Apple to continue to develop Apple Maps in hopes of making it better than the Google Maps app. 

Other additions

Apple will likely introduce other features in addition to Siri and Maps. In Mac OS X 10.8, Apple had over 200 changes. Some of the updates were big, like the Notification Bar, Notes, and Reminders; and some were small, like updates to the Finder interface. It’s obviously hard to predict some of the smaller changes that Apple will make, but analysts are predicting more iOS stock apps to make their way to Mac OS X 10.9. According to Negoescu, “iOS reader apps will likely move over as Apple wants to increase visibility and readership with live synchronization of the magazine or book page that’s open on your iPad or iPhone.”

According to Fingerman, further convergence between iOS and Mac OS X is inevitable. “iBooks is a good example of something that will likely come to Mac OS X,” Fingerman said. “The user-experience of the two will further converge with similar conventions to use and work with the applications.” Fingerman added that the Launchpad app is a great example of an iOS-like app that is currently just an option on Mac computers. He said Launchpad would probably develop into the default method in future versions of Mac OS, with the Finder method of sorting through files and apps becoming the fallback option. 

The convergence of iOS and Mac OS X

One thing almost every analyst agrees on is the merging of iOS and Mac OS X, but will there be only one unified operating system for both computers and mobile devices? In an interview with BusinessWeek, Tim Cook touched on the rumor, essentially squashing it. “We don’t subscribe to the vision that the OS for iPhones and iPads should be the same as Mac,” Cook said in the interview. “As you know, iOS and Mac OS are built on the same base … Customers want iOS and Mac OS X to work together seamlessly, not to be the same, but to work together seamlessly.” 

Since the company doesn’t depend on its Macs for revenue (the bulk of the company’s profits comes from the immensely popular Apple mobile devices), Apple has a unique ability to be a little risky with the operating systems for its computers. For this reason, Apple can continue to use OS X to cultivate and develop its “passion projects,” while continuing to meet consumer demands and meeting market trends for its iOS devices (like a bigger iPhone and a smaller iPad).

iTunes 11, the most recent update to the popular music program, is very different from the version on the iPhone and  iPad. To us, it seems like Apple is using iTunes 11 and its Mac computers to test out a future UI change to the app on its iOS devices. Perhaps Apple realized that not every change it makes will be a popular one (cough, Apple Maps), so the company is changing the way it introduces new products.

Apple’s Mac OS X operating system has the unique ability to withstand consumer influence since the company is not dependent on its success. For that reason, and a few others, we predict Apple will continue the tradition of keeping its Mac OS and iOS operating systems separate. 

Hardware changes

Over the past year, Apple has been making small but notable changes in its computer hardware. The MacBook Airs have gotten lighter and faster, implementing a new Intel Ivy Bridge chip for faster processing; the MacBook Pro added a brand new Retina screen for its 13-inch and 15-inch models; and the iMac became almost as skinny as a MacBook Air. Every year, Apple continues to update its popular MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, and this year should be no different. So what more can we expect from Apple in 2013?

MacBook Air and MacBook Pro

According to analysts, the MacBook Pro and Air will both get updated in 2013. In terms of the Air, we’ll likely see a faster CPU, increased RAM, a faster and larger solid-state drive, and the addition of a Retina display. We may even see a 15-inch screen, which would make a lot of sense considering the popularity of the Ultrabook. A more expensive version of the MacBook Air with a Retina screen is also a possibility, targeting the type of consumer that travels with their laptop and wants a super powerful computer – but without the heft of the heavy MacBook Pro.

As for the updated MacBook Pros, we foresee an upgrade to flash-based memory and SSD, similar to the MacBook Air. Not only is it faster, but it’s also less bulky, which should make the MacBook Pro lighter (and a lighter computer is something consumers never complain about).

Updates inside Apple computers

Intel is reportedly working on an update to its Ivy Bridge processors, one that cuts down on power usage and increases efficiency. The new chips could be up to 41 percent more efficient, increasing battery life and processing speeds while thinning in size and cutting down in power usage.

Apple is also said to be hiring ex-Texas Instrument employees in Israel to work on creating and developing new semiconductors for its devices. Of course, it wasn’t specified which devices these engineers would be working on. While Apple is obviously focused on its mobile market, and has created its own chips for the iPhone 5 and the iPad 4, called the A6X, what’s to say some of these developers aren’t working on chips for Apple computers? If Apple starts to develop its own semiconductor chips for its Macs, the tech giant could drastically update the performance of its computers.   

A touchscreen Apple computer?

With the launch of Windows 8 this year, touchscreen laptops are becoming the next big thing. According to Fingerman, a future Mac will have touch capability, either with direct touch or through a less-direct way, like what Leap Motion is doing with its gesture-based sensors. “We feel strongly that touch-based gestures (swipe, pinch/zoom, etc.) are a very natural way to interact with computing devices, and not just phones and tablets,” Fingerman said. He doesn’t expect Apple to get rid of a keyboard for a virtual keyboard, like the one it uses in iOS devices, but he does expect the first touchscreen Mac computer to be an iMac and not a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air.

But not everyone agrees that Apple could be heading for a potential touchscreen Mac computer. Negoescu predicts a (slightly) different future for Mac. He argues that the Mac already has great touchscreen integration via third-party software on the iPad and iPhone, and that using the “Actions” app on the iPad allows for full touch interactivity with his MacBook Pro. “I suspect the keyboard (iPad on the desk) is where a lot of the touch may go,” Negoescu said. “I have done similar research in the past and an adaptive touch surface where your keyboard/mouse used to be is an interesting way to go. Otherwise, you have a big, heavy tablet stuck on your desk in a vertical 90-degree orientation and your arms end up tired.” 

We think that a fully integrated touchscreen on a Mac is the next step in the convergence of iOS and Macs, but Apple has so far remained adamant about not wanting too many similarities between its iOS and Mac devices. By adding a touchscreen (and Siri), your MacBook will essentially become an oversized tablet.

Fingerman thinks that, despite Apple’s public reluctance against such a device, it’s still a possibility. “I know that Apple has previously suggested that a Mac/iPad hybrid is not where they are heading – but that doesn’t mean they won’t,” Fingerman said. “They would never communicate a radical product direction like that before publicly introducing it.”

Apple in 2013

In the history of Apple, there’s never been a time where the company takes a year off and coasts. And judging from Cook’s recent interview with Brian Williams, we won’t see one anytime soon. Cook essentially said that he expects the company to continue to grow for as long as possible thanks to innovative products and a unique ability to figure out what customers want before they do.

 However, because competition from companies like Samsung, Google, and even Microsoft, is drastically increasing, Apple is also starting to realize that it needs to improve its products and work on duds like Siri and Apple Maps. Before Windows 8, Apple might not have had the biggest share in the computer operating system market, but it was always the prettiest. But by producing a powerful operating system that is also aesthetically pleasing, Microsoft has taken a page from Apple’s book, meaning Apple has a lot more to contend with in 2013.

With big software changes coming in Mac OS X 10.9, groundbreaking computer concepts, and updates to existing products on the horizon, we’re certain 2013 will be another huge year for Apple.